Retirement is a time to readjust

Change is always unsettling and can be challenging, especially if one is unprepared. Dr Sanjay Suri recognises that retirement is a change that is often romanticised but not usually spoken of as a time for readjustment. And that there's someting more important than happiness.
Sanjay Suri

A few years ago, I attended a BMA (British Medical Association) retirement seminar, mainly to prepare myself for the financial change when I moved from a salary to a pension, which is usually a drop of more than 50%. It was an excellent seminar and the woman who led it asked all of us to write down the most valuable things (excluding our salary) that we gained from work. I remember writing down: seeing patients, meeting people, feedback from colleagues, a sense of purpose, teaching and training, routine, and structure. Others wrote down more specific things they would lose in retirement. She then went on to ask us what we would do to keep that? What would we start doing, what would we stop doing and what would we continue to do?

What was I most passionate about, that I perhaps did not have a chance to fully explore during my professional life?

I asked myself these questions as I prepared for retirement and realised that although I have a lot of interests outside work, such as mindfulness, walking, swimming, cycling, reading and writing (mainly poetry), even collectively these were not going to sustain me in retirement.

Like many others, one of the things I have done at work has been helping children and families get back to health or at least reduce their suffering. Where would that come from? I have always worked full time as a paediatrician. So where would I continue to use my clinical skills? And what was I most passionate about, that I perhaps did not have a chance to fully explore during my professional life? How would I get a sense of fulfilment from helping others?

To remain in touch with my clinical work, I have found medico-legal work stimulating and rewarding; it often involves using my clinical knowledge and skills, exploring the literature and giving an opinion. Most of this work can be done from a desk at home.

And in keeping with a desire to help others, I am involved in developing an app called Prem Seva in memory of my late mother, Dr Prem Suri, who passed away during the COVID pandemic in India. The app, which will initially be launched in India, will consist of care sheets and care videos, and aims to empower families looking after their elderly relatives at home. The focus is on educating caregivers in common practical skills. Phase two will be to develop Prem Seva kids - to empower families to look after their disabled children. 

I have also found a passion that I had been nurturing all my personal and professional life - self awareness - which has found expression and meaning in mindfulness. I have now qualified as a mindfulness teacher from the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice at Bangor University, North Wales, and have been leading and facilitating introductory sessions and the Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) eight-week courses for the past three years. We have set up a company called Justobe which has started delivering courses for deaneries and the NHS. If you'd like to get in touch about my mindfullness courses please feel free to contact me

My plans for a fulfilling retirement are to remain connected with friends and family and nurture and sustain my interests and passions

We all plan our retirement differently and there may be the force of circumstance and illness that will direct our course. There may be unrealised dreams - the so-called “bucket list” - and duties such as caring for loved ones. My plans for a fulfilling retirement are to remain connected with friends and family and to nurture and sustain my interests and passions. So far, retirement has been very enjoyable. There are moments of anxiety as I make the adjustments to a new way of being, but it is remarkable how adaptable we are as human beings as long as we learn to surf the waves as they rise and fall rather than wish they were different or endlessly try to tame or blame them.

What I have learned and wish to share with you is that more important than happiness is a sense of purpose. I came across the philospohy ikigai in a lovely little book about the Japanese art of living with meaning and purpose. Hobbies alone may not be enough to sustain you in retirement, but it's the connection with hobbies and with others that gives a sense of fulfilment and ease. (Also, I feel hobbies need to remain hobbies and not become another career.)

I now feel that I am entering a different phase in my lifem like a river merging with the ocean after its long, winding eventful and picturesque journey, to quote one of my favourite poets, Kahlil Gibran. I am hopeful that the merger will be successful. Most people I meet after retirement seem to look younger, happier, and more cheerful.

You can read other members' experiences of retirement from clinical paediatrics and see resources on our Thinking about retirement pages